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A foray into teaching English online in Kigali

2020-04-09 16:12:00 by Brad Elliott

We've had a few online sessions now with our regular Kigali class. And we've learnt a lot. Actually, it resembles regular teaching in many ways. Technical issues aside, there are some obvious benefits for both the trainers and students alike.

Saving time and money on travel is a clear advantage. Everyone, as they are stuck in their houses during the lockdown, finds it easy to join our group sessions at the click of a button. No traffic delays, no transport fee. Not to mention the relative ease of being able to join the lesson without the hurdle of trying to leave the office on time. If there's still a task to complete after the online session, students can go back to it straight after.

In the past, online learning usually meant asynchronous exercises, with long passages of text, accompanied by some quizzes at the end. Now, of course, we have synchronous, live learning. This style of learning immediately feels more human. We can see our students faces, we can see them laugh, smile, focus, and frown. Likewise, they can see their instructor do the same. This means the feedback is more direct, more instant, and therefore more meaningful.

There are some challenges, too. The first one that jumps to mind is classroom management. In our classrooms at Westerwelle, the trainers can move freely around the classroom, grouping students in different ways, or look over shoulders to see progress. Of course, on Zoom (our teaching platform of choice), there are breakout groups which allow us to simulate group and pair work. While helpful, the teacher cannot so easily observe what is going on and the students cannot so easily get the attention of the trainer.

With online classes, although better than the asynchronous methods, feedback can be a bit of a hurdle. In person classes mean the teacher can "read the energy of the room" almost subconsciously - a wall of bored expressions, a sea of furrowed brows, or a line of smiling faces can dictate the tempo of the next part of the lesson. In the online classroom, the trainer has to try to spot changes in facial expressions on a much smaller scale (literally). We must therefore rely on other facilities available on the platforms for feedback, plus check-in regularly with the students and allow adequate space for questions.

While we are still grappling with the idiosyncrasies of online teaching, it is clear that for our trainers at Spark, both in-person and online lessons can be used effectively to achieve the same goal. While we were forced into online teaching with the current global situation, perhaps there is even room to continue with this once we are all "free".

A huge thanks must go, of course, to our students for trialling out online learning with us here in Kigali.

Feel free to contact us for more information

Phone: 0788 319 524, E-mail:

Address: Westerwelle Startup Haus, KG 622 St, Kigali

Spark English is part of a Rwanda-based education group committed to helping Rwandans communicate effectively in English, empowering them to build a stronger future.